Virtue & Happiness

The word happiness in Nicomachean Ethics is a translation of the Greek term eudaimonia, which carries connotations of success and fulfillment. For Aristotle, this happiness is our highest goal. However, Aristotle does not say that we should aim at happiness, but rather that we do aim at happiness. His goal in Nicomachean Ethics is not to tell us that we ought to live happy, successful lives, but to tell us what this life consists of. Most people think of happiness as physical pleasure or honor, but this is because they have an imperfect view of the good life.

The conception people have of happiness frequently does not line up with true happiness because people are generally deficient in virtue. Virtue is a disposition to behave in the right manner, which is inculcated from a young age. A person with the virtue of courage, for instance, will not only show confidence in the face of fear, but will think of this courage as a good thing. Behaving courageously will make the virtuous person happy and will be one part of living a generally good life. By contrast, a person who has been poorly brought up and exhibits the vice of cowardice will find happiness in the avoidance of danger and thus will have an imperfect view of the good life.